More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.”
These shocking facts are the basis on which Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn build their case for a new global movement to turn oppression into opportunity for women. Half the Sky is not journalism in the mode of The New York Times, which once employed both the authors and still runs Kristof’s twice-weekly column, but a self-professed and passionate work of advocacy.
Kristof and WuDunn expose the terrifying reality of the sex slave trade, maternal mortality, and female genital cutting, and the tragedy of education denied to girls, not in the abstract but through the eyes of women and girls they have interviewed and in many cases come to know intimately through extensive travels to some of the most godforsaken places on earth. They have long since learned the lesson that stories of individual human beings are far more effective in conveying harsh realities than any table of statistics. The result is a powerful book crammed with unforgettable characters.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn ★★★★★
But Half the Sky is a hopeful book. The most compelling tales told in its pages are those of the heroic women and girls who have refused to tolerate their lot: the illiterate rural woman who now teaches surgery to credentialed graduate surgeons in Ethiopia, the Illinois woman who moved to Senegal and found an effective way to dramatically reduce female genital cutting, the upper-caste Indian woman who is saving hundreds of girls from sex slavery. These are today’s heroes, the avatars of a new worldwide movement — not a women’s movement, the authors insist, but a universal movement to claim for all of humanity the rights to life and liberty that so many of us take for granted.
“Decades from now,” write Kristof and WuDunn, “people will look back and wonder how societies could have acquiesced in a sex slave trade in the twenty-first century that . . . is bigger than the transatlantic slave trade was in the nineteeth. . . They will be perplexed that we shrugged as a lack of investment in maternal health caused half a million women to perish in childbirth each year.”
For the reader who is sufficiently motivated to take action, Half the Sky includes an extensive list of organizations that are actively engaged in addressing these compelling issues. And it’s tough to read this book from beginning to end without feeling that need. Isn’t it about time to turn oppression into opportunity for women?
For further reading
I’ve also reviewed Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn—A hopeful message about poverty in America by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
This is one of the books I’ve included in my post, Gaining a global perspective on the world around us.
For books on closely related topics, see:
- Narrowing global inequities: a reading list
- Third World poverty and economic development: a reading list
- The top 10 books on the economics of poverty
- A resource list on social enterprise
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.